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Ronald Drever

Biography of Ronald Drever

Ronald Drever 1972
Ronald Drever 1972

Ronald Drever (1931-2017) was a graduate of the University who, from 1986 to 1994 with Kip Thorne and Rainer Weiss, co-founded ‘LIGO’ - the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory that led to the discovery of Gravitational Waves in September 2015.

Ronald William Prest Drever was educated at Glasgow Academy before coming to University. He graduated BSc with Honours in 1953 and continued his study with a PhD entitled: Studies of orbital electron capture using proportional counters.

Following his PhD Ronald Drever continued his research at Glasgow on the isotropy of space and a number of experiments involving beta decay to set a limit on the mass of the electron neutrino. In 1970 he initiated a gravitational waves group in Glasgow, being joined by Jim Hough in 1971. They built the early gravitational wave detectors in Glasgow and in 1979 Drever was invited to work part-time at the California Institute of Technology to initiate an experimental effort on gravitational wave detection. In 1984 he became a full-time professor at Caltech. This, together with a number of other original ideas, was fundamental to the realization of the LIGO Project for a gravitational-wave observatory. Drever continued to work on the LIGO project in Caltech until 1994. He became Professor of Physics Emeritus at the California Institute of Technology in 2002.

From 1984 the group in Glasgow was led by Jim Hough and continued to develop gravitational wave detectors, becoming the Institute for Gravitational Research with Jim co-leading the GEO 600 detector in Germany and the Institute providing the suspension technology for an upgrade to the LIGO detectors during the period 2010 to 2015, to allow the detection of gravitational waves to be made.

Drever was a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, of the American Physical Society, of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, and was earlier a Vice President of the Royal Astronomical Society. He has held many advisory positions to government funding agencies such as the National Science Foundation (USA) and the Astronomy Policy and Grants committee (UK).

Drever with Rainer Weiss was also awarded the 2007 Einstein Prize by the American Physical Society "For fundamental contributions to the development of gravitational wave detectors based on optical interferometry, leading to the successful operation of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory."

Ronald Drever, with Kip Thorne and Rainer Weiss and the LIGO Scientific Collaboration were awarded the Yuri Milner Foundation’s Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics (2016) and the Gruber Prize in Cosmology (2016), together with the Shaw Prize in Astronomy (2016) and the Kavli Prize in Astrophysics (2016).

Ron Drever died in Edinburgh on 7 March 2017. The announcement that Rainer Weiss, Barry Barish and Kip Thorne were to be given a Nobel Prize for Physics was made on 3 October 2017.


Ronald Drever
Born 26 October 1931.
Died 7 March 2017.
University Link: Graduate
GU Degrees: BSc, 1953; PhD, 1958;
Occupation categories: physicists
Record last updated: 3rd Oct 2017

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